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‘Toilet Ek Prem Katha’: A Subtle Rebellion Against Oppressive Patriarchy And Religion

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“Maine aisa kya maang liya, ki tum mujhe de nahi sakte? (Did I demand something impossible for you to give me?)”

This sole line has all the depth to evoke an exciting thought in me. But, what is exciting here is the need and want for a toilet in the house. Shree Narayan Singh’s “Toilet: Ek Prem Katha” is the story of Jaya who marries Keshav, who belongs to a village that has never had the concept of lavatories. Since Jaya has grown up using toilets, she cannot accustom herself to open defecation.

The political authority (the Panchayat) is oblivious to the unspoken woes of the rural women which Jaya tries to emphasize with. Moreover, the men who seem to be the guards of religion make it difficult for her to throw light on the necessity of cleanliness. Under the cloak of religion and purity, men and women sit separately each morning exposing themselves which is also a concern, especially for women. Quite obviously, open defecation is a bane to cleanliness in one’s surroundings. But, this is not comprehended vividly until Jaya leaves her new home out of despair after failing to accommodate to a disturbing way of life. Keshav, in order to bring his wife back, realises in the process that the construction of toilets has been disrupted by a lack of knowledge of its necessity.

The film is made to contribute to Swachh Bharat Abhiyan (Clean India Initiative), started out by the Prime Minister in 2014. Therefore, it comes out brilliantly at the level of social responsibility. Placing pristine environment as the core, “Toilet: Ek Prem Katha” is capable of igniting revelations about the misery of open defecation by impressively describing cleanliness as the basis for human existence. But more prominently, it stresses on issues like gender bias, censorship of religious scriptures and more.

A certain disparity between men and women is a debate that boils down to the basic rights of education and social and political participation. The fact that Jaya is educated and her moves are considered ‘rebellious’ is a reflection of the suppressed voice of women in a regular Indian social structure, so much that education for them is seen ‘abnormal’. Another striking feature of the village is the austere religious impositions. It has a Panchayat – a bona fide clique of men, who know Sanskrit and thus, can manipulate the scriptures to serve their selfish manoeuvres. This extends to the broader gamut of government’s control over people’s faith and education. India has had a history of religious politics whereby faith is used to earn public support and that the primary sources of education like the textbooks and the institutions that impart knowledge are heavily influenced.

That is to say that secularism in various forms is promised by the Indian Constitution but is not optimised in reality. In this way, the film provides a holistic insight into the political situation of the country, in general. It is true that there cannot be a big change anticipated by the release of an artwork since it takes more than just that. However, the film does stimulate an individual’s contribution by voicing their thoughts out to initiate social well-being which can eventually lead to a major variation.

Relating the cinematic performances to the same endeavour, the poignant dialogue delivery of Jaya brings out the most basic need of individual liberty in revolutionary glory. Her letting go of the pallu (veil) is not merely a shift from the present social scenario but resonates with the inherent vigour of a woman who can act when she wants. The tears she exhibits are a testimony to both personal and social struggles.

On the other hand, the humble portrayal of Keshav buttresses how marriage is a union of two equal yet distinct people who stand by and for each other, through thick and thin. The couple demonstrates emotions of helplessness and hope in a manner that speaks of their sacrifice to encourage change and its eventual accomplishment. The women in the village feel triumphant when Jaya transgresses the limiting bounds of a patriarchal society thus, providing impetus to others to speak up.

Lastly, the supporting role of Babuji posits the need for acceptance and change in the forefront as no valid concern should be left unserved until applied to oneself. In a nutshell, the writing and direction of “Toilet: Ek Prem Katha” frames it amid a setup that has all the uncanny elements of an emancipating society.

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  1. INDIAN PUPIL

    nice article narman

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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